The Internet might become the cornerstone of your company's marketing strategy, or it might facilitate communication among employees spread across the country. It also might get you sued. According to Barry D. Weiss, a partner at the Chicago law firm of Gordon & Glickson, companies that give their employees unrestricted access to the Internet need to head off problems before they begin. Traditional corporate communication policy, says Weiss, can't account for a medium in which a libelous letter can reach half a million people in a matter of minutes. He recommends that companies take the following precautions (and run any formal Internet policies by a lawyer):

Implement authorization codes. Identify employees who are allowed to use the Internet, and give them passwords to get on-line.

Define participation on bulletin boards. To reduce the risk of defamation claims, restrict participation in chat channels and bulletin boards to those employees who have specific business to conduct in those forums.

Put it in writing. Employees should sign agreements that state they understand that unauthorized use of the Internet could be grounds for dismissal.

Give advance notice of monitoring. To avoid being cited for invasion of privacy, be sure to inform employees clearly and in advance if you plan to monitor their E-mail.

Limit downloading of information. To protect against copyright-infringement liabilities, require that any information downloaded from the Internet be limited to internal use only.

-- Joshua Macht

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